Do you ever remember those assemblies at school where a teacher would stand up in front of a hundred pairs of uncomfortably crossed legs and preach about some individual’s life story, which we would do well to aspire to?
I would love to know what happened next. And did those legs go on from height to height, scaling improbable circumstance and leaping from opportunity to opportunity, whatever got in their way?
It turns out that sometimes they do. My dad used to teach in Africa and when his former students aren’t becoming university vice-chancellors or Harvard professors or naming their children after him, they are making a real difference where they are. Education matters.
Thanks to the wonders of modern social networking sites, I am now in contact with more school friends than I feel I ever was when I was there. It is school reunion on tap. It began with friendsreunited.com, where everybody I ever shared a class with tried to outdo each other with their travel adventures, employers and number of cats. Then myspace arrived and we added music to irritate our visitors, photos to impress them and added as many friends as we felt we could: famous or familiar. The glamour passed and facebook took over. Now we can throw sheep into the ether. We can play Scrabulous till the lawyers come home. We can sign petitions no one is going to read. We can show the world pictures of the children we are going to have. But, perhaps most importantly, we can start again with our old friends where we left off. There is no need any more to put up a facade. The school reunion on tap has got past the initial awkwardness of remembering names and grinning at everyone.
So what are all my peers up to? There are those who work for big companies for big money: BBC, KMPG, Orange, Microsoft, Accenture and so forth. Some are in academia in Canada, Australia or Milton Keynes. There are those who have settled down: many have got married over the past two to three years but many are not. Many have turned 30 in the past years, like me. Some have had children and are raising a family the way they choose. Some are around the world as missionaries in Prague, Africa, Albania, Bosnia or Norway. A lot of the people in my home town who never moved far have older children. There is every kind of interest represented and so many degrees of striving for something.
My dad was advising me yesterday about a job prospect and how I am viewing it all. He reminded me of one of my favourite verses in the Bible: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” from Philippians 4:11. Dad does seem to know exactly what to say to motivate me.
I realised that when I consider it carefully, I am content, but sometimes I strive for what I cannot have. I am content to not have a sun tan on my legs this year. I am content to be in the UK when I would like to be living abroad. I am content to let go of the occupational maternity pay. I am content to have a wonderful husband and the most smiley baby in the world. I am content that although I am unlikely to have motivated anyone else to aim for a Harvard professorship, it is enough for me that I just play my part as a small cog in a bigger machine. Actually, small cogs turn pretty fast sometimes. I have to choose to be content, and then everything makes a lot more sense again.
So I am no longer competing for accolades among my peers. I do not have to be the greatest. I do not even have to be a perfectionist. I just have to play my part and learn when enough is enough. It is not about Me and I do not need to work towards an assembly about Me.
Besides, no one likes being crosslegged for very long.